Mixing microbes with carbon nanomaterials could help the transition to renewable energy.
Mixing microbes with carbon nanomaterials could help the transition to renewable energy. KAUST research shows microbes and nanomaterials can be used together to form a biohybrid material that performs well as an electrocatalyst. The material could be used in the solar-powered production of carbon-free fuels and several other green-energy applications.
At the heart of many clean energy technologies is a process called the oxygen-evolution reaction (OER). In the case of solar-fuel production, for example, the OER enables the use of solar electricity to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, producing clean hydrogen that can be used as a fuel. Currently, rare and expensive metals are used as OER electrocatalysts. But graphene-based biohybrid materials could make an inexpensive, eco-friendly alternative, Pascal Saikaly and his team have shown.
Graphene—a sheet of carbon that is just a single layer of atoms thick—and closely related reduced graphene oxide are highly conductive, mechanically robust and widely available. However, they only become active catalysts once they have been doped with other elements, such as sulfur, iron, nitrogen or copper.
Image: Geobacter sulfurreducens is an electric bacterium the team used to decorate the surface of the reduced graphene oxide. (Credit: © 2019 KAUST)